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Popular Myths That Have Been Debunked by Actual Science

Popular Myths That Have Been Debunked by Actual Science February 4, 2021Leave a comment

There are a lot of so-called facts floating around out there, some of which were even taught to us in science class when we were kids. But as the world continues to evolve, scientists have been able to debunk many of the popular myths we believed to be true.

Many people only realize in adulthood that they have no idea what animals are doing while they hibernate, or why listening to classical music doesn't make us any smarter. So, here’s a list of things that have passed off as true for many years, but are in fact entirely or partially false.

Camels Store Water in Their Humps

Wikimedia Commons/Britchi Mirela

Most people believe that camels store water in their humps, which would be a handy thing to do since they’re always in the desert. But they actually store fat to nourish their bodies in case they can’t find food. However, camels are capable of drinking as much as 30 gallons of water at a time and they store that water in their bloodstream.

It Takes Seven Years to Digest Gum


They say that it can take up to seven years to digest chewing gum, but that's just a major myth. While the gum base is tough to digest, chewing gum tends to move through the digestive system just like anything else you swallow.

Alcohol Kills Brain Cells

Wikimedia Commons/Phee

Alcohol is a neurotoxin, which has led many science teachers to tell their students that it can kill brain cells. In reality, it does reach the brain shortly after consumption but it won’t exactly kill brain cells. However, it can lead to alcohol poisoning and permanent brain damage if someone drinks excessively.

The Distance Between the Sun and the Earth Influences Seasons

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You may remember being taught that summer begins when the Earth is closer to the sun, and that winter begins when the Earth is further from the sun. But in fact, the Earth and the sun are closer during the winter and farther apart during the summer. The reason the seasons change is the result of the Northernmost point of the Earth’s axis tilting, allowing the planet to experience the sun more directly in certain areas over the course of its orbit.

Ostriches Stick Their Heads in the Ground

Wikimedia Commons/Tony Wills

They say that when there’s danger, ostriches will stick their heads in the ground. In reality, they can give as good as they get during a fight. But while laying their eggs, they will use their beaks to rotate their eggs, giving the appearance that they’re burying their heads in the ground.

Blood in Our Veins is Really Blue


The veins under our skin might appear to be blue, but that’s only because when light hits the skin, blue light reflects back. Human blood is actually red thanks to a protein called hemoglobin which is loaded with iron and turns red when it comes in contact with oxygen.

If you Crush Coal you Can Create a Diamond

Wikimedia Commons/Dave Fischer

They say that if one crushes a piece of coal, they can create a diamond. But coal comes from decaying plants in Earth's crust while diamonds come from Earth’s mantle, and are made up of meteorites and asteroids that have crashed on Earth. Most diamonds surface only when volcanoes erupt.

Chameleons Use Their Color Changing Abilities as Camouflage

Wikimedia Commons / Yosemite

Cartoons have led to the misconception that chameleons alter their color to camouflage themselves. But in reality, their natural skin blends in well with Mother Nature. So, their colors change mainly when showing aggression towards a competitor or showing affection to a potential mate.

Elephant Graveyards Are Real

Wikimedia Commons/Tumwinekenneth

For centuries, people have believed that elephants go on a final journey to the area where they’ll take their last breath. This alleged elephant graveyard theory also appeared in Disney’s “The Lion King.” But according to scientists, older elephants will travel to remote places in search of food and perish while trying. Other times the deaths are the result of drought or disease, not a set out plan.

Listening to Mozart Makes Babies Smarter


Psychologist Frances Rauscher did a study that showed college students did better on assignments requiring abstract and spatial reasoning while listening to Mozart. This birthed the theory that babies got smarter in the womb if mothers played Mozart. But it’s not Mozart’s music alone. In reality, all classical music has the ability to make babies and grownups smarter but only for short periods of time.

A Goldfish’s Memory Only Lasts Three Seconds


No, a goldfish’s memory doesn’t last three seconds. Their brains are sophisticated enough to recognize their human owners when they get close to the fish bowl. Some can even be trained like dogs to do tricks and even push buttons to get food.

Peeing on a Jellyfish Sting Helps Neutralize It

Wikimedia Commons/Airickson

Got stung by a jellyfish? Have someone pee on the sting. Right? Not so fast. Research suggests that urine can cause more venom to be released from the stingers. So, in lieu of urine, try using vinegar on the affected area. Then pluck the tentacles off carefully with tweezers and take a hot shower to relieve the pain.

Bats Can’t See

Facebook/Batzilla the Bat

The belief that bats are blind is as much of a myth as the idea that they can turn people into legions of the undead. Bats use echolocation using ultrasonic sound waves that bounce off objects to locate or avoid prey and cave walls. But bats also rely on their vision, which is said to be better than human vision, to get food and avoid threats.

People Won’t Always Have a Calculator Handy


Remember when your math teacher used to justify learning math because they claimed you wouldn’t always have a “calculator in your pocket”? Well, they were obviously wrong given that mostly everyone has a cell phone with a calculator app on them nowadays.

You'll Get Tetanus From Rusty Nails

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Don’t step on a rusty nail or you’ll get tetanus. Right? Wrong! While some people do get tetanus from contact with rusty nails, tetanus itself is caused by the Clostridium tetani bacteria. This affects the nervous system leading to muscle related issues and, in some cases, death. So, if one touches a tetanus infested surface, the bacteria can make its way into the skin through a scratch or a crack.

Lightning Never Strikes the Same Place Twice

Wikimedia Commons/Ranji Banji

They say ignorance is bliss, which explains why people take comfort from the belief that lightning never strikes the same place twice. But in reality, it can strike twice in the same place and during the same storm. Just ask skyscrapers like The Empire State Building, which get struck multiple times all year long.

Body Heat Escapes Mostly From the Head

Facebook/Angelika Vee

Growing up, our parents urged us to wear our hats in the winter to keep body heat from escaping from our heads. But research shows that body heat can escape from any exposed area of the body like hands, arms, and legs.

Thomas Edison Created the Light Bulb

Wikimedia Commons / Library of Congress / Underwood & Underwood

Thomas Edison has hundreds of patents under his belt, but he didn’t invent the light bulb like some teachers claimed when we were in school. What Edison did was come up with was a number of different experiments to improve upon incandescent electric light that already existed.

Opossums Sleep Hanging Upside Down

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Young opossums can hang upside down with their tails, but can only do so briefly. Adult opossums, on the other hand, aren’t able to use their tails to balance their weight, so the long-held belief that opossums can sleep hanging upside down is false.

Cut an Earthworm in Half to Create Two Earthworms

Wikimedia Commons/ProjectManhattan

People believe that cutting an earthworm in half will create two separate earthworms. But if the area where the worm’s vital organs are located gets severed, it will die. On the other hand, one can make two or three worms out of a flatworm depending on how many times they get sliced.

Humans Only Use 10% of Their Brain


The idea that humans only use 10% of their brain started in the late 1800s. But imaging technology has determined that our brains are highly active even when we sleep. And according to John Henley, a neurologist, “Evidence would show over a day you use 100 percent of the brain.”

Touching Toads Cause Warts

Facebook/Katherine Brooks

Can touching a toad give you warts? No, but they do have warts that contain toxins. Warts, on the other hand, appear on humans who have been exposed to the HPV virus. This condition causes bumps on the skin because skin cells begin to grow at an accelerated rate. HPV can be transmitted from human to human or by touching a surface that contains the virus, but not from a toad.

Tongues Have Different Taste Zones

Wikimedia Commons/TipolinaTucci

David Pauli Hänig, a German scientist, put the idea in people’s heads that the tongue has specific zones for certain tastes like sweet and salty. But scientists have discovered that while some areas of the tongue are more receptive to certain tastes, other areas of the mouth like the roof and even our throats have taste buds.

Dropping a Penny From the Empire State Building Can Be Lethal

Facebook/Empire State Building/Raul D

There’s a theory that if one drops a penny from the Empire State Building, it will reach such astronomical speeds that it will instantly end whoever it hits. But physics professor Louis Bloomfield created a helium balloon that dispensed pennies from high above. According to him, pennies aren’t aerodynamic enough to make them lethal. But other items that are more aerodynamic could potentially cause a more significant threat.

The Great Wall of China Can Be Seen From Outer Space

Wikimedia Commons/Peter Dowley

The Great Wall of China is about 4,500 miles long, so it stands to reason that one could see it from space, but that’s not the case. An astronaut would have to be in very low orbit to see the massive structure, but only if the sky was nice and clear. Otherwise, it’s very difficult to accurately make out.

There Are Only Three States of Matter: Solid, Liquid and Gas


There are actually four known states of matter if you include plasma. Sometimes referred to as ionized gas, plasma has different properties than a gas, so it has received its own distinction. Lightning, fire and the tails of comets are all plasma and even water can become plasma, but it will no longer be possible for you to drink it.

The Coriolis Effect Causes Toilet Flushes to Spin in Different Directions


There is some science behind this myth, but in reality, the water in a toilet or other drain can spin in either direction in either hemisphere in the world. Hurricanes and large flows of water, like the Gulf Stream, are effected by the Coriolis Effect, but toilet flushes are just too small of an amount of water to be effected.

We Only Have Five Senses


The five senses of sight, sound, touch, taste and smell are known to most people, but we all have a few other senses that help us navigate the world every day. These include the sense of balance, sense of temperature, and interception, or the sense of one’s physiological condition, to name a few.

Sharks Don’t Get Cancer


Some people really believe that some creatures are immune to diseases just because they rarely get them. Although sharks can get cancer, they don’t do so often because they have a compound called an “angiogenin inhibitor” that reduce a tumor’s ability to survive in their body. This inhibitor may play a significant role in curing cancer for humans!

Bulls Are Angered by the Color Red


During bull fights, it isn’t the red cape that angers the bull, even though that is what matadors want you to think. The acts of a bullfight, including general taunting and other annoying behaviors, are what activate a bull to charge. 

A Mother Bird Will Shun Its Baby If It Has Been Touched By Human Hands


A common myth suggests that if a baby bird is touched by a human, its mother will no longer recognize her own scent on the bird and she will assume that it is not hers. This myth isn’t true because birds don’t have very strong senses of smell and they are very protective of their young even if they have been handled by humans! This myth may have been started to deter well meaning humans from taking baby birds away from their mothers.

Houseflies Only Live For 24 Hours


Lifespans vary extremely for creatures of the same species, so it’s hard to determine an average lifespan for any creature. But, houseflies have been known to live for about a month while other types of flies may have a lifespan of between 5 minutes to 24 hours, so it really depends on what kind of fly you’ve got in your home!

Dog Mouths are Cleaner Than Human Mouths


Anyone who has a dog will know that those four-legged friends use their mouths to do a lot of things, like clean themselves, eat and lick a myriad of surfaces. So, your dog’s mouth is as clean as whatever they’ve been eating, which could be a number of totally gross things. 

The Chemical Tryptophan Makes You Sleepy After You Eat Turkey 


Turkey does contain tryptophan, an amino acid that is a component of some of the brain chemicals that help you relax, but it isn’t the only food that contains this acid, nor does it contain an overwhelming dose of it. Plenty of other foods have tryptophan too, including cheddar cheese, tuna and oats. It may be the size of your Thanksgiving meal that makes you drowsy every year.

Milk Makes Strong Bones


Milk contains high levels of calcium, a mineral that is associated with strong bones, but according to new research, our bodies can’t absorb much of the calcium that’s present in milk. And a Swedish study showed that drinking too much milk, about three full glasses a day, was associated with a higher risk of bone fracture.

Eating Chocolate Causes Acne


Some people believe that eating chocolate causes acne, and they believe it is either the cocoa or fats in chocolate causing this reaction. But according to scientific studies, people who ate candy bars had no more acne that those who didn’t. Eating the chocolate also didn’t improve acne, so it seemed to have no effect whatsoever.

Eating Food Off The Ground Is Okay Before 5 Seconds Pass


The famous five second rule dictates that as long as your food fell less than five seconds ago, it’s fine to pick up and pop it in your mouth. But this myth is simply false because bacteria can contaminate a food within milliseconds, so it’s up to you to determine how clean your floors are and what you’re willing to risk eating!

Coffee Stunts Your Growth


There are no direct links between caffeine consumption and a lack of bone growth in children, so this myth doesn’t hold any weight. It may have been started by manufacturers of drinks that were competing with the popular morning beverage.

Giraffes Sleep For Only 30 Minutes a Day


It’s unclear how this myth got started, but after some research, people discovered that giraffes take a deep sleep at night and have a few naps throughout the day. Their total sleeping time per day still added up to an average of a measly 4.6 hours, though.

The Bigger Your Brain is, The Smarter You Are


Humans tend to be thought of as the smartest creature on Earth, and there are definitely animals with larger brains than humans. Even considering the ratio of brain-to-body-mass, humans aren’t particularly impressive compared to other species. Sperm whales have the largest brain of any animal, but they’re pretty large animals to begin with!